It’s hard not to notice the imposing Garuda Wisnu Kencana statue towering over the Southern Balinese landscape. After all, at 121 metres high, it’s the largest statue in Indonesia and the 4th largest in the world. Every time we crossed the Bali Mandara Toll Road, I would gaze and wonder what the structure on the hillside was. So, on a recent trip to Bali, we decided it was time to visit the GWK Cultural Park for a closer inspection.
Located in the Jimbaran region of Southern Bali, the statue sits at the top of the 60 hectare GWK Cultural Park. After Edy, our driver, dropped us at the main car park we found a courtesy shuttle bus waiting to sweep us to the ticket office.
The ticket prices at the time of our visit (in August 2023) were IDR 125k per person for general entry. For this price, we could enter the ground floor of the main statue. To go on the statue tour we had to pay an extra IDR 250k each. We could have bought a combined ticket for IDR 300k pp at the ticket office, but that option was only available with a credit card, which we didn’t have with us. When we travel, we try to avoid international bank charges as much as we can by using cash. We could have also bought tickets online from their website. As it was a warm afternoon, we also decided to pay IDR 40k each return and catch the shuttle bus to the ticket office. It’s quite a climb to the statue so worth the small extra cost.
Up close, the statue is pretty awe-inspiring. What looked like little hands from a distance turned out to be the tips of the wings of the Hindu deity Garuda. And what I thought looked like the head was Garuda’s tail.
The statue is of the Hindu God, Lord Vishnu, one of the main gods in Hinduism, riding Garuda, also known as king of the birds. According to mythology, Garuda allowed Lord Vishnu to ride on his back in return for the use of Amrita – the elixir of life – to save his mother.
We opted to take the guided tour up the middle of the statue. Luckily, there were a few places left on the next tour starting within a few minutes. Numbers are limited but you can book in advance at the ticket office. The tour lasts about forty minutes and the guide warned us that once the tour had begun, we’d have to remain with the group until the end. The guide also requested we put on these very fetching covers over our footwear before we set off.
Once our tour group had gathered, a lift whisked us part way up the statue to the 9th floor. This is where most of the displays are. First, we watched a short, animated film about the mythology that inspired the statue. Then the tour moved through to the display areas.
Our guide was very informative and happy to answer our questions. We learnt the statue took nearly 30 years to come to being, from its original design by Indonesian artist Nyoman Nuarta in 1989 to its completion in 2018. It was assembled from 1500 sections made of copper and brass sheeting over a stainless steel frame with a steel and concrete core. The sections were put together in Bali but originally constructed at the artist’s headquarters in West Java. Engineers from around the world conducted many tests to ensure that the construction was cyclone and earthquake safe.
Vishnu’s golden headdress and collar is made of thousands of pieces of gold mosaic, each piece painstakingly set in place by hand.
Once we’d seen everything on the 9th floor, we were taken up to the 23rd floor, where we could catch glimpses of the amazing views through the windows. More alarmingly, for those not totally comfortable with heights, there were several sections of glass floor. Some members of the party were brave enough to walk over them (I wasn’t). There were also glass wall panels showing the internal girders of the statue with a couple of lifesize models of workers strapped to them.
Whilst the views over the surrounding landscape were good, it wasn’t as great for photos as I would have hoped. A) there is a glass floor section by each window which you have to stand on to get close to the window, and B) the exterior of the statue is quite thick so it seems like you’re viewing the surrounding landscape through a short tunnel.
The GWK Cultural Park
After the tour, we headed back outside again to look at the other statues in the park. There were also good vantage spots through the gaps carved out of the limestone hill where we could take photos of the main statue .
Unfortunately, there were no maps to guide us around the park, other than the one at the ticket office. We kept seeing signs to “The Lotus Pond” but we couldn’t find it. It was only later we discovered it wasn’t an actual lotus pond but a large plaza cut out of the limestone rocks, which is used for concerts and other events.
Overall, it was a pleasant setting to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon and wasn’t overly crowded. The GWK Cultural Park is still a work in progress. Conceptional photos on the walls of the ground floor of the statue show how the developers envisage the park will look once completed, so I’m sure we’ll be revisiting during a future trip to Bali.